Snappy screens and other nifty, new home products


Guerry Green installed a lot of porch screens as a contractor in Georgetown, S.C., where screened-in porches are a genteel way of life. And he went back and repaired a lot of them too, when they got torn, or bent, or blown away in a hurricane.

It occurred to him one day that there had to be a better way to install screens than stapling them to the frames and covering the edges with lattice strips. If the screens had to be replaced, the lattice had to be removed -- and usually replaced -- and the screen ripped away, the staples removed or pounded down . . .

So Mr. Green thought about the problem for a while, and then he invented the Screen Tight Porch Screening System.

The system consists of a black vinyl base or channel that is nailed onto the wood, fiberglass screening that is tucked into a slot along the base, and a vinyl cap that snaps onto the base, tightening the screen in the process. If something happens to the screen -- if it gets torn or stretched or blown out -- all it takes to replace it is to lift the cap, remove the spline holding the old screen, replace the screen and tap the cap back on. Since the screen and maybe the spline are the only parts that get replaced, repairing the system is cheaper than the old method, as well as being easier and faster.

"To winterize the porch," Mr. Green says, "you remove the cap, put plastic across the spline and snap the cap back on."

Mr. Green was just one of a couple hundred enthusiastic purveyors of products for the home improvement industry at the Remodelers' Show, a huge product expo and educational seminar series that took place last weekend at the Baltimore Convention Center. The show is sponsored by the National Home Builders Association of Washington and produced by Remodeling magazine and the NAHB Remodelers' Council. The show is open to NAHB members and others in the building and remodeling industry, and includes seminars that help large and small contractors run their businesses, as well as programs on industry issues. This year that included programs on the outlook for the remodeling industry and the lumber industry and reports on industry trends.

The product expo is just one part of the show, but it attracts so many visitors that many manufacturers use the occasion to introduce new products, or to show off improvements to older products.

Exhibitors range from small start-up firms with one hot product to giant firms like Velux America, with hundreds of products and international connections. It's a fascinating look at where the industry's going, and what products contractors -- and homeowners -- may be seeing in the near future.

Among the smaller exhibitors this year was Furnex of Lewiston, Maine, which was showing off its HT-10 chimney system, a prefabricated, modular system that can be built into walls. Traditional chimneys require a certain amount of air space, or clearance, between the chimney and any combustible materials.

"It eliminates the chase around the chimney," says Tim Aho of Furnex. "You can put it directly against any wall. You can wallpaper directly onto it, you can joint compound and tape it, you can paint it with any paint."

Furnex is a brand-new firm with one product; but the folks at Velux were just as enthusiastic about their Cabrio balcony roof window. It's a two-piece window designed for installation in a slanted roof -- but when it's opened, it becomes a small balcony with a glass roof and metal siderails.

The device works so easily one small person can open and close it with ease, and the upper window tilts for easy cleaning. (The tilt feature also can be used as a vent.) The window would be super in a vacation house, or to open a spectacular view in a city attic. The window was introduced in Germany and France three to four years ago, according to Gary Hyman, Velux America marketing manager; the Remodelers' Show was its first introduction in the United States.

Another big company showing off a recent innovation was United States Gypsum Co. -- commonly known as USG -- with its Sheetrock Lightweight Joint Compound (Plus 3), a drywall finishing product that is 30 percent lighter, and thus easier to use, than traditional joint compound.

The company says the new joint compound is easier to sand, doesn't shrink as much, and weighs 17 pounds less per bucket than the heavier variety.

USG was also introducing a Sheetrock drywall repair kit, which contains everything you need to fix holes, dents, cracks, nail pops, cracks and areas of water damage in drywall. It comes in a small container that would be perfect for homeowners.

Here are some other products we saw that might help contractors or homeowners struggling with a rehab problem, or looking for something out of the ordinary:

* Easy-to-install and flexible molding. One system, called the Corner Store, from MacMillan Bloedel Building Products, consists of prefinished corner blocks that connect to molding strips. The precut pieces eliminate the need for coping corner joints. The systems come in several profiles and finishes, and some can be painted, stained or varnished.

Then there's the curved and flexible molding from Flex Trim Industries, designed to go around all sorts of curves -- and will even go in circles. It's perfect for curved door or window tops, or anywhere traditional flat molding stock won't go.

* WardFlex flexible gas line from Ward Manufacturing isn't a homeowner product, but homeowners faced with a difficult gas-installation situation might consider asking their contractor about it. It's a corrugated stainless steel tubing system that is easier to install, because it eliminates most connections. And its flexibility may make installation easier in tight situations.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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